It's about heart

When the final list came out, the 5A-first-team All-State roster in Texas, the most productive state in the country in terms of putting out Division 1 football players, defensive tackle Thaddeus Randle was at the top. But when you ask the Husker commit how he got there, he won't enthrall you with descriptions about his size, strength or technique. He says it's all about heart.

Effort is a hard thing to gauge for most people. They often look at the scoreboard at the end of the game, and if it was a blowout favoring their team, the players competed with high energy. If it's tilted the other way, they didn't play as hard as they should.

That's a rough way to decide what every player is doing, and according to a former player for Nebraska, especially when talking about the

Thad Randle could be one of the unsung
superstars of this year's class
Husker team this season, it simply doesn't work.

"I saw Nebraska get beat pretty good by Missouri and Oklahoma, but you can tell that there wasn't a player out there not selling out for the team," Former Husker All-American and Lombardi Award winner Grant Wistrom said. "There are a lot of the same players on this team from last year, but they didn't play the same.

"They played with heart."

Husker commit Thaddeus Randle has the same belief, and credits that attitude toward the game as one of the big reasons for where he's standing after his senior year of ball.

But think about just where that is:

Five-star, top-five ranked DT, Jemarkus McFarland Four-star, top-10 ranked DT, Stephen Barrera Four-star, top-20 ranked DT, Calvin Howell

Just three of seven players from the Lone Star state ranked ahead Randle, including commits to Texas, Texas A&M and Kansas.

Randle finished ahead of them all, according to the Associated Press Sports Editors, and when Thad heard the news himself, he was as surprised as anyone, because he, like most everyone else, got caught up in the stars, measurables and offers some of these fellow linemen had. "You look at McFarland, and he's big, fast and he's got all the offers," he said of the 6-3, 285 interior defensive lineman who has a reported 30-plus offers including Texas, LSU and USC.

But measurables and offers aren't everything.

At 6-1 and around 265 pounds, Randle may not project as a guy who is going to figure in right now for the Huskers, but with his frame he projects very well down the road.

Oh, and there's that motor. Yes, that motor. It's the thing Randle said that if he were to assume why he ranked as an AP first-team defensive lineman in the state, that has a lot to do with it. "It's just heart to me. It's just never giving up on a play, and even if the guy is clear across the field you have to try and get there, because you don't know what's going to happen," he said. "It's how I play, but I also think that your team feeds off of that and they start playing like that, too."

Randle finished his All-State season with approximately 50 tackles, including 17 tackles for loss, eight and a half of which were sacks in addition to three fumbles caused, two fumbles recovered and 11 QB pressures – all in just eight games.

Barrett Ruud knows full well what effort
and just knowing the game can get you
in the long run
Pretty impressive, but as most great players would say, numbers don't tell you near what a player can do as what you see in an actual game. "Lots of players out there don't come out of high school or even college with great numbers in terms of their speed, size, strength or whatever. But those same guys are tearing up the league," former Husker linebacker and starting linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Barrett Ruud said. "Some people just know how to play, and if you are out there playing as hard as you can play good things are usually going to happen."

Randle would agree.

"If you aren't giving everything you got every single play you aren't doing everything you can to win. And it's hard to ask your team to pick it up if you aren't doing it yourself," he said. "That's why I am always out there playing to the whistle, encouraging the guys around me, because if you are supposed to be so good, people are going to look at you as to how they should play.

"They should see a guy who doesn't stop playing, ever."

Randle is just one of many reasons his Mustangs were undefeated throughout the entire regular season, ultimately losing a 28-21 heart breaker in the playoffs. The season didn't finish off the way he wanted, but Randle said that the experience was great. From everything they did to get to that point to how they fought and clawed during games when the conclusion was still in question – this wasn't the ideal way to go out, but it wasn't bad at all. "Everyone played their hearts out for this team, and yeah, you want to win it all in the end, but you can't look at that and say we didn't do everything we could to make it happen," he said. "We don't hang our heads just because we lost, because we fought like crazy to win."

Nebraska will lose starting defensive tackle Ty Steinkuhler going into next season, and it's still not absolutely for certain that junior Ndamukong Suh would forgo the 2009 NFL Draft and come back for his last year as a Husker. In a recent interview with Suh, he said that was certainly what both of his parents wanted, but when asked about just how definitive it was that he was not going to declare for the draft at some point, he simply said "That's the plan right now."

If the Huskers don't get Suh back, that, along with the loss of Steinkuhler, is going to leave a monster void in the middle of the D-line. Out of all the players who participated in games this year, including redshirt freshmen Jared Crick and Terrence Moore along with sophomore Ben Martin, you have no starts and a total of 11 tackles.

This isn't an analysis to figure out if Randle does indeed have a chance to play right away, because again, physically the prep-standout could be a year away. But there's little doubt that he'll be needed not very long down the road.

That's just fine with him, but as for when he gets on the field, he approaches that like everything he's done thus far. "Being on the field is the greatest thing there is – the crowd, hitting people and just playing as hard as you can," he said. "But you have to earn your right to get out there and do it.

"I don't ever want to miss a game. I don't ever want to come out for even a snap, but everything I have done right now, I have to pick it up and do even more (when I get to Nebraska). That's what it's all about. It's about the heart you have to play, but it's the kind of heart you have to compete against others to get a chance to play."

With conversations I have had with former players like Wistrom and Ruud, along with former linebacker and current starter for the Philadelphia Eagles Stewart Bradley, it's not a science when it comes to how you should play the game. But if you don't know what you are looking for it can be hard for the everyday fan to see.

For Wistrom, though, who came out of Nebraska as one of the most decorated football players in Husker history, certainly on the defensive side, he thinks the future of this Husker defense and the entire team, stems from players doing what he saw this year and for Husker Head Coach Bo Pelini to continue to bring in the type of players to make it happen.

"Out of all the stuff people might say about me, I look at my motor and how I played the game as the thing I am the most proud of," Wistrom said. "I have seen my share of guys who had all the physical gifts, but didn't want to play the game the way it's supposed to be played.

"Bo is instilling that desire to play in those guys, and you know those are the types of guys he's going to bring in from now on. You can build a team off that. You can win off that. It won't be long before Husker fans see that for themselves."

Randle won't make predictions, but he'd agree with that as well. "Just play. Just play as hard as you can whenever they are out there and give everything you got. It's simple for me, because that's how I played, because that's how I think you should play.

"If you can get an entire team to do that, you are going to have something special."

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